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Florida Second DCA rules that trial court erred in allowing insured under State Farm UM policy to benefit from policy stacking provisions when stacking was affirmatively rejected as part of policy renewal process

On May 21, 2021, in State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company v. Wilson, No. 2D19-4046, the Florida Second DCA reversed a trial court ruling that the insured under an uninsured motorist (UM) insurance policy was entitled to UM coverage for injuries sustained while riding a motorcycle not listed as a covered vehicle in the UM policy, notwithstanding the fact that stacked coverage for non-listed vehicles had been declined. The insured’s boyfriend, her co-insured the policy, had affirmatively declined stacked coverage when applying to renew the policy, which according to State Farm triggered the conclusive presumption under Fla, Stat. § 627.727(9) that there was an informed, knowing acceptance of the limitations of non-stacked coverage. The trial court determined that the insurednevertheless was entitled to stacked coverage because the form “did not adequately put Mr. Schnitz onnotice of the limitation of coverage for all insureds" and that “the selection/rejection form is inconsistent with the policy and would lead the signor to believe that under these facts and circumstances, there would be coverage." The Second DCA noted that the key difference between stacking and non-stacking coverage is that "unlike stacked coverage, non-stacked coverage does not provide coverage for every vehicle that the insured owns—it only provides coverage for the vehicle on which the UM premium was paid," quoting from Swan v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 60 So. 3d 514, 518 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011) (emphasis added). The Second DCA concluded that the controlling case was Larusso v. Garner, 888 So. 2d 712 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004), in which the Fourth DCA ruled that because the stacking rejection form undisputedly was approved by Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) and signed by the insured, the insurer was "as a matter of law . . . entitled to the statutory conclusive presumption that [the insured's] rejection of stacked coverage was knowingly made." The Second DCA stated that It is well-established that "in the absence of interdistrict conflict, district court decisions bind all Florida trial courts," quoting Pardo v. State, 596 So. 2d 665, 666 (Fla. 1992). The Second DCA concluded that the trial court’s rejection of the form was an “impermissible end-run around a clear legislative mandate.” The insured argued that the policy was itself ambiguous, that the UM selection/rejection form was part of the application for the policy (citing Padgett v. Horace-Mann Insurance Co., 704 So. 2d 627 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997), that the stacking rejection form should be considered when assessing any ambiguity in the policy, and that any ambiguity should be interpreted in favor of the insured.The Second DCA rejected this argument, pointing that in Padgett, unlike this case, the application and the policy were combined into a single document. The Second DCA stated that in this case the rejection form only came into play because the insureds were rejecting stacked coveragethat otherwise would automatically apply, and that was form was not a part of either the policy or an application for UM coverage.

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